2022 10 26

The advantages of hybrid unitized façades and the Glulam used to make them

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Staticus has been successfully designing, constructing and installing unitized façades containing wood across Scandinavia for a decade. And through the Norway Grants funded Staticus Care project, we have used this expertise and know-how to create a next-generation hybrid unitised façade, or HUF. This is a solution that can reduce a façade’s embodied carbon by from 45% to as much as 75%. Together with our project partners Kaunas University of Technology, OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University and SINTEF, we aim to reduce the use of materials with high embodied carbon and replace them with low-carbon alternatives like timber. 

In this article, we will provide a short overview of the advantages of our timber-based HUF. We will share some details about Glulam, the versatile and lightweight glued laminated timber we will use in our hybrid façades

The benefits of timber-based hybrid façades

Our R&D team is focused on next generation hybrid unitized façades. That is because this innovation can bring significant advantages in the areas of sustainability, aesthetics, production and installation. 

Sustainability benefits

HUFs can cut embodied carbon emissions at the product stage by up to 75% compared to standard aluminium unitized façades. This is achieved by replacing the structural frame with timber.

Hybrid façades also help to save energy over the life of a building. This is because the cellular structure of wood provides outstanding thermal insulation: 

  • It is 15 times better than concrete, 
  • 400 times better than steel, 
  • and 1,700 times better than aluminum. 

It even significantly outperforms brick. A 25mm timber board has better thermal resistance than a 114mm brick wall. As a result, wood is becoming an ever more competitive solution for meeting the increasing thermal demands for buildings required in European building regulations.

Aesthetic benefits

Timber creates a healthy indoor environment for building users because it is warm and visually attractive, especially for the finished surfaces of a work environment. It also offers a contemporary architectural aesthetic, adding elegance, character and texture to a building. 

And from the technical side, using a wood frame design creates a wider range of possibilities for playing with frame connection joints. This makes it possible to fulfill more ambitious architectural ideas.

Production and installation benefits

HUFs have two significant advantages over existing wood options when it comes to production and installation. 

Firstly, the elements can be fully prefabricated at sizes ranging up to 10 sq. m. They can then be delivered to the construction site for immediate installation, providing a significant advantage over site-built wood systems. 

And secondly, thanks to the use of Glulam, the hybrid system is suitable for multi storey buildings, unlike site-built wood façade systems which can only be used on low-rise buildings in conjunction with exterior scaffolding.

What is Glulam, the material used to build our hybrid unitized façades?

In our HUFs, the structural mullions and transoms have been replaced with Glulam – glued laminated timber. 

This structural engineered wood product is constituted of layers of dimensional lumber which are bonded together using durable, moisture-resistant adhesives. Many wood species are used as Glulam base, including softwood, such as spruce and pine, and hardwood, such as oak and ash.

Glulam is a highly versatile material. It can range from simple, straight beams to complex, curved elements. Available in both stock (from 60 to 200 mm in width and from 140 to 600 mm in height) and custom sizes,  Glulam beams can be up to 18 meters long, or even longer if needed.

Lightweight yet strong

One of the most significant benefits of Glulam is that it is considerably lighter than steel or concrete. This means increased transportation efficiency and a lighter-weight structure with comparable strength. Glulam can be used in place of structural steel, and offers two times the strength-to-weight ratio. 

Low CO2 and recyclable

Glulam offers significant environmental advantages as well. Converting raw timber into a usable building material requires far less energy than producing steel, plastic, aluminum or concrete. As a result, significantly less carbon dioxide is generated during its manufacture. Furthermore, approximately 0.9 tons of CO2 is stored in each cubic meter of wood. This means Glulam’s carbon footprint is much lower than comparable construction materials. 

Furthermore, timber is fully recyclable, waste efficient, biodegradable and non-toxic. With end of life featuring more and more in project specifications, Glulam offers a significant advantage here as well.

Glulam has low embodied carbon and is recyclable, making it a much more environmentally friendly option than comparable building materials. Source: swedishwood.com 

Permitted and safe for to be exposed in construction 

Glulam’s large mass provides inherent resistance to fire. Like other mass timber products, it chars in the event of a fire, which forms a protective layer on the outside while retaining the strength of the construction. This slows combustion significantly, allowing for a safe evacuation of the building. Further research into Glulam’s fire resistance is ongoing, with a specific focus on tall wood construction.

Continuing to optimise façade performance and sustainability

Together with our partners KTU, OsloMet and SINTEF, we are continuing to develop and refine our HUF, including the use of Glulam. In this way, we aim to make a lasting contribution to façade sustainability.

The project “Developing a more environmentally friendly automated façade system that is integrated into the building’s control systems” is funded by the 2014-2021 Norwegian Financial Mechanism Program “Business Development, Innovation and SMEs”.

The project “Developing a more environmentally friendly automated façade system that is integrated into the building’s control systems” is funded by the 2014-2021 Norwegian Financial Mechanism Program “Business Development, Innovation and SMEs” and EEA and Norway Grants.

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